Over the past few weeks numerous psychologists and self-help gurus have expounded fulsomely on the subject of New Year’s Resolutions: why we make them, what resolutions we make and, importantly, why we don’t keep them. It appears that too often, in our New Year optimism and holiday bonhomie, we set the bar too high and as the reality starts to dawn that this year looks much like the last one, our good intentions evaporate with the return to work and familiar routine.
However, I am delighted to report that, 11 days into 2011, I am still holding fast to my resolve to drink more champagne – or at least, to cultivate a taste for it – and have every intention of continuing the good work.
Now, strictly speaking, since the French (quite rightfully) reclaimed the Champagne term, what I am acquiring a taste for is sparkling wine made from chardonnay, pinot noir or pinot meunier varieties of grapes and according to the méthode traditionelle. However, I am going to use the blanket term of champagne since I have occasionally (after pay day) indulged in the real thing.
Why am I succeeding in my New Year’s Resolution when all the self-help and psyche types shake their heads and warn of inevitable failure? Simple. I chose a resolution that will not cause me pain. Well, potentially it could cause me pain, but this little black duck gave up drinking to excess many, many years ago so pain of the self-inflicted variety is just not an option. What I do drink to, however, is success, and here’s the key:
The most typical NY’s Resolutions, according to the various reports, are things like losing weight; quitting smoking; taking up exercise; being nice to the bogan cousins at family dos – such resolutions frequently being made under the influence of alcohol. These are guaranteed to cause pain. After all, if we really wanted to do these things we’d just do them, not wait until New Year and then resolve to do them. They’d be done. So, in choosing resolutions that are going to cause pain, especially once the holiday period is over and the daily routine brings us crashing back to reality, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
Setting myself a resolution that will bring happiness is something I will want to continue – that’s the theory, anyway. So far, so good. In 11 days I have tasted four different types, including one French, and I’m reading up on the relative merits of different varieties and styles. It’s not just about consuming the stuff, I really want to know more about it. Having generally considered champagne to be a vastly overrated drink and sticking mainly to good reds, this is new territory and I’m really enjoying the trip.
In fact I was discussing the whole ‘overrated’ assessment with a friend the other day, as we sipped a Grant Burge blanc de blancs, and we decided that most people’s first experiences of sparkling wines are as teenagers and involve the cheap and nasties (Passion Pop, anyone?), and that perhaps the good stuff really is a grown-up taste.
But don’t take it from me – here’s what the experts say:
I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am; otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty. Madame Bollinger
Le Champagne ne se boit pas, il se déguste. Il ne faut pas l’avaler goulûment. On doit le déguster avec mesure dans des verres étroits, à gorgées espacées et réfléchies.* Collette
I’m only a beer teetotaler, not a champagne teetotaler. George Bernard Shaw
Come quickly ! I’m tasting stars! Dom Perignon, the 17th Century Benedictine monk who created champagne
I’ll drink to that! (or, as they say in France: Á ta santé!)
Champagne.fr (language warning: it’s in French)
And for hopeless nerds, there’s Professor Thomas Brennan’s book, Burgundy to Champagne: The Wine Trade in Early Modern France: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science (John Hopkins University Press, 1997)
*Translation: Champagne should not be drunk, it should be tasted. It must be not be swallowed greedily. One must taste it slowly from narrow glasses, in well-spaced, thoughtful sips.